It had been less than three months since I had received by mail a Gillette Mach III razor from the United States Army. It came with a note congratulating me on my 18th birthday and suggesting I look into joining the Army.
I still didn’t really need to use the razor when Jennifer Gisick, a friend from high school, found me in what amounted to the “quad” at Hutchinson Community College, just as I was headed to English Composition, and told me that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. It was about 9 a.m.
That was about all anybody knew on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 — two planes were (apparently) hijacked and (presumably) deliberately directed into one of the United States’ great monuments of achievement. A third crashed somewhere else. They thought that one was headed for Washington.
I had two immediate thoughts:
1) “This means war.”
2) “The Army probably isn’t going to wait for me to contact them.”
In the eight years since, there have been a lot of people write much more eloquently and importantly than me on 9/11. I still can’t read this Rick Reilly story on Flight 93 with a stiff lip — talk about playmakers. And I still think nobody captured the moment and the pain better than David Letterman did in his first monologue after the attacks.
I think it is important to recall and relive those feelings from time to time. It’s a shame the politicians couldn’t keep their grubby little hands off those feelings. They’re mine, and I resent the attempt to sell them back to me.
In many ways, 9/11 has not turned out to be what we thought it would. It took us into a two-front war, of course, but it turns out only one of the fronts was (probably) really necessary.
Since it happened, it has been the last foreign attack on U.S. soil. An awful lot of awfully good and talented people have made sure of that. Our government has messed a lot of things up over the last 233 years, but it has always done a remarkably good job of protecting its people. It doesn’t have a more important responsibility.
At first, it seemed 9/11 would pull the country back together. For a few weeks, politics and race and pettiness did not matter. In hindsight, we were asking one event to change the nature of humans.
9/11 briefly renewed patriotism. In the eight years since, satirists have successfully equated patriotism with being an idiot. That’s a shame. It’s now uncool to be patriotic, and that’s too bad. Flag waving and critical thought aren’t mutually exclusive.
I have four cousins, three former classmates and a handful of friends serving in the U.S. military right now. I know at least one of them has killed. Some have been shot at. At least one had landmine blow in his face. None of them have to be there. For that, I’m immensely grateful, not to mention proud.
Some of them would be in the military whether there was a 9/11 or not. None of them, though, would be in any immediate danger without it.
Eight years later, life is normal for U.S. civilians. I shave now. Sometimes I still use that Mach III, and every time I do, a little piece of me remembers what it felt like when I thought I was headed to war.